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Video shows kids bullying school bus monitor; now, the questions

June 21, 2012|By Rene Lynch

A video of New York schoolboys taunting a 68-year-old school bus monitor has gone viral, watched more than 1.65 million times since it was posted online Tuesday. It's led many people to decry a new low in an increasingly coarse culture and to ask: What's wrong with our children?

Social media is driving an effort to try to help the monitor, Karen Klein. More than $278,000 --  and counting -- has been raised. The money is ostensibly a “vacation” fund for Klein, but it’s turning into a financial indicator of the public’s outrage over the boys' bullying behavior and a way to collectively apologize to Klein.

Here are just a few of the comments posted on YouTube, where the video can be found, and on the fundraising site created on the monitor's behalf.

-- "Lost all faith in humanity."

-- "We need to be a kinder country than this. Bullying needs to stop!"

-- "Parents, this is our wake up call! It’s time we expect more from our kids -- starting with common decency."

The 10-minute video plays like a reality TV version of "Lord of the Flies." The gray-haired Klein sits mostly silent on the Grace Central School District bus in North Greece, N.Y., as she's mocked by foul-mouthed 12- and-13-year-olds who repeatedly pelt her with f-bombs, call her fat, poke at her hearing aid and comment about how much she's sweating.

As the harassment increases, the boys call her a troll, ask for her address so they can urinate and defecate on her doorstep, and say that if they used a knife to cut her open, hamburgers would slide out.

Almost at the very end, one of the boys says -- "you don't have a family because they all killed themselves because they didn't want to be near you." Of all the barbs, that one might have hurt the most: Klein's son killed himself about 10 years ago.

The school district has launched an investigation into the incident. It is unclear what punishment, if any, the boys will face.

The video has managed to pierce through the cluttered online universe because it strikes so many personal chords. How can children be so cruel? Where did they learn such behavior? What happened to at least a modest show of respect for adults?

And: Is this simply an isolated incident or, given the widespread talk about bullying, has a video camera just managed to capture the horrors that occur when schoolchildren let loose on the closest victim?

The New York newspaper the Democrat & Chronicle, for which this is a local news story, published an editorial Thursday pointing to the video as evidence that our culture is in decline.

Meanwhile, there is an outpouring of love and support for Klein. She seems stunned by it all. She said the ugly incident took place just as the school year was about to end.

"I was in the back of the bus like I usually am. Sitting there, minding my own business," and keeping an eye on students to make sure no one was jumping around and misbehaving, she told the Democrat & Chronicle.

"And for some reason, they just started in with this garbage. I still don't know why. And I sat there and took it until they got off the bus. And I thought 'It's done. It's over.'"

She said she didn't bother to write the boys up for their behavior. "Why bother? What good is it going to do?" she said, pointing to it being the end of the school year, and a seemingly lax attitude toward student outbursts.

Klein said that she would like the boys to apologize. In writing.

"I don't know if I want to see them face to face," she said.

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Join Rene Lynch on Google+ or Twitter. Email: rene.lynch@latimes.com

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